On the day Tom Hayden was sworn in to the California Senate, the talk in his office drifted from how incorrect it is to drink coffee made from beans grown on oppressive plantations, to carcinogenic pesticides on fruit, to the native peoples of the Amazon.
But perhaps the most relevant words were embroidered on the pillow on his office couch. Supposedly uttered by that great master of wisdom, baseball’s Leo Durocher, they read: “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you an idiot.”
Hayden won his Senate seat by using the sort of spikes-high campaign tactics that might have appealed to Leo the Lip, if Durocher had been a politician. But inside the ornate Tory red chambers of the state Senate, Hayden’s style of political play is not nearly so well-received.
At 52, Hayden, the 1960s anti-war activist and student radical-cum-liberal, anti-insider legislator, is entering the most exclusive of California’s clubs. It is one where the average tenure is 12 years, the average age is 60--and where fellow Democratic senators tried to blackball Hayden by donating $203,000 to his primary foe, their friend, Westside Democrat Sen. Herschel Rosenthal.
In a quirk of reapportionment, Rosenthal, 74, an 18-year Senate veteran, will continue to represent his old district for the next two years.
Hayden’s reception is all the more strained given the way in which he defeated Rosenthal and Democratic candidate Catherine O’Neill in the Westside Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley district. He used the lofty rhetoric of political reform, and railed against the institution, pointing out that three of its former members have been convicted in federal corruption trials.
He also spent $600,000 of his personal wealth, $900,000 in all, and fired off more than 30 batches of campaign mail, much of it equating Rosenthal with the corrupt, festering, money-driven “special-interest state.”
The hit piece that most got under Rosenthal’s skin sought to link him to former Sen. Alan Robbins, who is serving a federal prison term for political corruption.
Entitled the “Unfolding Story,” the mailer opens by saying: “Senator Alan Robbins is on his way to jail. Senator Herschel Rosenthal wants your vote. . . . What’s the connection between these two men? Follow the money.”
The mailer described Robbins crimes, and ended with a photo of Rosenthal atop a cartoon pile of cash. Another Hayden mailer called Rosenthal the “special interest senator,” and charged that he cast votes for gambling, horse racing, tobacco, alcohol and other interests that gave him campaign money.
Rosenthal responded by equating Hayden’s campaign methods with that of his 1960s nemesis, Richard M. Nixon, and charged that Hayden would do anything to win.
After $2 million had been spent in the three-way Democratic race, Hayden won the primary by 580 votes over Rosenthal, then easily beat a little-known Republican.
“In terms of hardball politics,” said Sen. Quentin L. Kopp, a San Francisco independent who has made a point of reaching out to Hayden, "(Hayden’s primary campaign) was still viewed as unfair. That’s the feeling of the Senate. That’s the pulse of the Senate.”
Now that he has been sworn in as a senator, Hayden is not anxious to relive the campaign. But his detractors have long memories. For all his talk of the urgent need for good and clean government, these detractors say, the tactics he employed showed him to be as ambitious--and conventional--as any run-of-the-mill politician. When his career was on the line, Hayden resorted to the harshest of attacks.
“It was politics at its worst,” said one Democratic legislator who declined to be named. “If anything, he should hold himself to a higher standard. He held himself to no standard at all.”
Hayden offers no apology for the broadsides he launched, though he denies that he equated Robbins with Rosenthal, who has never been linked to Capitol corruption scandals.
“It was a tough, competitive campaign, in a system that is wide open,” he said. “The political system is like the last frontier.”
He defended his big money campaign, heavy use of direct mail and negative attacks against his opponents, the very tactics that are blamed for keeping people away from the polls.
“Being a political reformer doesn’t mean that you have to lose in order to retain your status,” he said. “I would have lost the election by not spending money. . . . It was necessary to run a tough and critical campaign aimed at the status quo.”
In a decade in the Assembly, Hayden made a point of staying out of the mainstream, and he left the lower house feuding with Speaker Willie Brown. He does not intend to change his style in the Senate, figuring that he was not elected to become part of any insiders’ club.
“The whole political order has to be fundamentally reformed, including the state Legislature, including the state Senate,” Hayden said.
He and his staff are quick to say that the Senate leadership has extended them every courtesy, but Hayden is not shy about questioning Senate traditions.
He skipped an orientation for new senators. Scheduling problems got in the way, he said. He did note that the event, hosted by the University of California, was funded in part by corporations with business before the Legislature.
“It institutionalizes coziness,” Hayden said.
Then there is the Senate dress code, which dictates that men wear jackets and ties on the Senate floor. He told Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti what he thought of the requirement--"ridiculous.”
“There’s something archaic about the idea that you can’t engage in dialogue with anyone unless you have a suit and tie on,” Hayden said, though he added that he does not intend to “shed blood” over the matter, and will not buck the tradition.
“It’s the least of the issues between us,” he said. “I just wanted to convey to him that, ‘Hey, this is not a joke.’ I actually think you work better in an open collar and that nothing is gained from making people wear jackets and ties from dawn to dusk.”
Hayden may not like some of the traditions, but he has benefited from at least one--that the Senate is less partisan than the Assembly. Last week, conservative Orange County Assemblyman Mickey Conroy again dredged up Hayden’s visits to Hanoi during the Vietnam War and accused Hayden of being a traitor. He tried to find a senator to carry a resolution to bar Hayden from being seated. No senator would, though some are ex-Marines who harbor hard feelings about Hayden.
Shortly before Hayden was sworn in Monday, Sen. Ruben S. Ayala, a Chino Democrat and former Marine, recalled that years ago he introduced a motion to block Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr.'s appointment of Hayden’s ex-wife, Jane Fonda, to the California Arts Council because of her anti-war activities.
“I don’t have much love for either one of them,” Ayala said.
Despite such ill will, the power of a senator is not lost on his detractors, or on Hayden. In the Senate, his is one of 40 votes, rather than one of 80 in the Assembly. As a senator, he has an added measure of power because the Senate votes on more gubernatorial appointees. “It is harder for your vote to be ignored,” Hayden said.
In the Senate, Hayden will probably find the leadership more willing to give him a freer hand to pursue his goals than he had in the Assembly. But few legislators give Hayden much chance of getting any major reform bills through the Legislature.
In one measure of the esteem in which he is held by his colleagues, only one legislator, liberal Assemblyman Tom Bates (D-Berkeley), gave him money during his primary, writing a personal check for $150. Bates, Hayden’s seatmate in the Assembly, called him a “special person” and predicted that he “will have an impact” in the Senate.
A daily commuter to Sacramento, Hayden said he views his trips here as if they are missions to “a center of colonial power.” He is here long enough to represent his constituents, then returns home, “whereas other people see it as a center of all politics and occupy themselves up here fully.”
For now, Hayden and Rosenthal say they intend to work with one another and try to forget what was said in the campaign.
“If he has good legislation, I’ll support it,” Rosenthal said. “I won’t be voting against it because it’s Tom Hayden’s legislation. But that doesn’t apply to a lot of senators.”
Times staff writer Jeff Rabin contributed to this report.